Why focusing on audiences - not keyword volumes - is the future of search marketing

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Targeting niche search term around specific locations can deliver significant results.

Anyone who works in search will be able to tell you about the often-laborious task that is keyword research; building out a long list of all the ways that people search around your business (or your client’s business) and then using another tool (more often than not Google’s own Keyword Planner) to attach numbers to those keywords so that you can prioritise them by volume. The problem with this is that everyone ends up competing around a small set of ultra-competitive keywords.

In the UK, the very generic and very competitive term, ‘cheap holidays’ is searched 450,000 times a month on average, with Google labelling it as a ‘high competition’ term for marketers and suggesting a bid of £2.09 to get any visibility among those searchers. Brands including On the Beach, Travel Republic and loveholidays are paying to be at the top of Google while On the Beach (again), TravelSupermarket, First Choice and TUI (and more) are all earning their top spots via natural search.

But it’s ruthless. Undoubtedly, each and every brand who’s appearing above the fold on the results page for any generic, commercial search term is spending a lot of money to do so; be it via media spend, technical or development resource, content production, whatever. Getting decent visibility for highly competitive terms is a drain on energy and money.

So what about targeting more niche keywords? They’re typically much less competitive, but equally tend to have much lower search volumes which can make it hard to justify on an effort-versus-impact basis.

Know your audience

There needs to be a different approach to drive results -- focus on keywords and audiences, as opposed to just keywords. You might argue that a keyword focus is a proxy for an audience focus, but I’d disagree and suggest that, broadly, the search industry has for too long been hung up on the words that get entered into Google’s little white box – rather than the people who are typing them (or voicing them).

This is so important in the travel industry where different destinations appeal to different audiences in different ways and for different reasons. For example, we know that between 31 December 2017 and 24 March 2018:

  • Those in the East Midlands comprised 7% of searches for generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related terms), but a more significant 32% of people who searched around ‘Sri Lanka safaris’ (and related).
  • 58% of searches around generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related terms) were performed by women while searches for ‘Sri Lanka hotels’ (and related terms) were more dominated by men, who performed 59% of the searches.
  • Singles performed 41% of searches around ‘Sri Lanka beaches’ (and related terms) but just 23% of generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related terms), while widowers performed 14% of searches around ‘Sri Lanka safaris’ (and related terms) but just 5% of generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related) searches.
  • 20% of generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related) searches were performed by those aged 45-54, but that same age group only made up 11% of searches around ‘Sri Lanka beaches’ (and related terms).
  • Equally, 18-24 year-olds performed 23% of searches around cheap Sri Lanka holidays but just 12% of generic ‘Sri Lanka holidays’ (and related) searches.

Data source: AudienceView™ by Hitwise

With the above data, you start to see which elements of a trip to Sri Lanka most appeal to different demographic groups. You can use this to make decisions about everything from what messaging to use, to what terms to optimise pages on your site for, through to what terms or demographics you upweight or exclude from PPC bids.

More affinity, less competition

Of course, keyword volumes remain important; but by bringing in audience affinity as another lens for prioritisation, you can avoid that chaotic scrap for competitive top spots and find the opportunities which are less fought-over and still highly relevant for your target audience.

Hitwise’s AudienceView™ tool enables us to bring together a whole host of demographic, attitudinal and behavioural factors to replicate our clients’ personas, or most valuable customer groups. We can then look at the customer’s online behaviour; which sites they visit and how they search within any given industry.

Lisa Luu, manager of innovation and insights at Hitwise, says, “Like Propellenet, Hitwise advocates a customer-centric and data-driven approach to digital marketing. To extend reach and increase campaign ROI, the target audience must be at the heart of all decision making.

“Our platform, AudienceView™, allows clients to do just that. The richness and frequency of our data enables clients to profile their target audience, understand their needs, and devise ways to acquire them. The power of our data allows us to extend our application beyond search and feed into numerous functions, from content, paid media to ecommerce teams.”

By partnering with Hitwise, Propellernet is able to plan campaigns and activity for maximum impact on search engines and real people, at maximum efficiency for our clients. Many of them have a clearly defined audience; they’re not mass-market brands gunning for everyone who’s online and so using Google’s Keyword Planner as our guiding light, in terms of prioritising search terms, is less effective and leads to wastage.

It is time that search marketers thought more about the people performing searches – and this approach is enabling us to do just that.

If the data in this piece has whetted your appetite, Propellernet recently teamed up with Hitwise to produce a report on Trends, Myth Busters & Audience Tactics in the Travel Industry. It includes how we’ve successfully used this approach with luxury travel operator Kuoni and can be downloaded for free, here.

Sophie Coley is audience strategy director at Propellernet

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